I’m not vegetarian, let me say that straight up. I really like meat, and I respect that it once was a living animal. So I don’t want to vilify turkey or meat-eating here, but there are a significant number of people who do vegetarian Thanksgivings these days, whether they are a daily vegetarian or just want to do something different, and y’all deserve a fantastic Thanksgiving meal, too!
Meat has always been a special occasion food. But it’s not special these days because many Americans and Europeans eat it every day. It’s just so available. There’s also an entitlement culture around meat-eating. “I can afford it so I deserve to eat it.” That means, while it’s special to have the whole bird on Thanksgiving, having meat is not. These days, you almost need to go meat-free to make Thanksgiving – or any meal, for that matter – special again.
Opting for a vegetarian meal on this holiday of excess can make a positive environmental impact (if people buy fewer unnaturally ginormous turkeys, fewer will be produced, which lessens the impact on the environment) as well as provide an opportunity to have a meaningful discussion about food issues such as meat-eating with close family and friends. (For downloadable conversation cards to inspire discussion, check out our Thanksgiving Earth Dinner post!)
Intrigued but not sure what could replace the turkey centerpiece? I don’t know about you, but I actually prefer to fill up on the sides! No one will miss the turkey if you put some of these worthy vegetarian dishes on the table:
- Squash and Sweet Potatoes: Squash and sweet potatoes are undeniably Thanksgiving-y as well as filling, and in lasagna form, these humble veggies are definitely worthy of entree status. For a more rustic-elegant Thanksgiving table, these Squash Toasts with Ricotta and Cider Vinegar or Baked Squash with Rosemary Garlic Wine Sauce would be perfect. The web is also filled with recipes for rich and hearty sweet potato/squash gratins, risottos, mashes, casseroles, stuffings and oh so much more. (Squash and sweet potatoes are interchangeable in most recipes.)
- Green Bean Casserole: Whether made from a can or from scratch, this one’s always a hit. Or turn the classic on its ear with this Green Bean Casserole with Red Curry and Peanuts.
- Roasted Veggies: No recipe needed here! Simply chop up some Russets, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots and Brussels sprouts; toss with oil, salt, pepper and seasonings of choice; and roast at 400 F for about an hour.
- Gravy: I didn’t even mention mashed potatoes because, well, duh. But here’s a highly rated Portobello Mushroom Gravy that would be a tasty tater topper.
- Stuffing: I can’t resist bread soaked in a stick of melted butter. There are lots of unique vegetarian stuffing recipes out there, including vegan or gluten-free options.
- Southern Style: Cheesy grits, collard greens, southern deviled eggs, and corn bread, oh my!
- Pumpkin Pie! Who could forget the pumpkin pie?! And it is most definitely vegetarian.
Here are a few more tips from Food & Wine magazine.
If you go away from this vegetarian Thanksgiving table hungry, it’s your own fault!
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If you simply cannot bear the thought of a turkey-less Thanksgiving, consider purchasing a locally-raised, heritage breed of turkey instead. That way you can rest easy knowing the turkey was treated well during its life and had room to do what birds do (scratching, gobbling, flying – yes, some turkeys can fly! – and generally causing mischief), and if organic, that it was raised without antibiotics, hormones or GMO feed. Many heritage breeds would be extinct if we didn’t raise them for human consumption, so while it’s a little uncomfortable to think about it in that way, by eating them we are preserving turkey biodiversity and supporting local farmers.
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Are you going vegetarian this Thanksgiving? Or do you have a fantastic veggie side dish that the world should know about? Please share with us in the comments!
Cheers, and happy (vegetarian) Thanksgiving!